INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Break Time

Spring Break is here. We're outta here for some R & R up in the beautiful state of Oregon. 'Til I return, Happy Spring, everyone!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Knee-Jerkism is Alive and Well

Once again, I’m going to riff off of a comment from Maria Benet. (Keep those comments a-comin’ Maria! You save me from trying to find material for a post).

Thanking me for the link to Jonathon Delacour’s post, she comments:

“Funny thing is that two nights ago, at dinner with old friends, we were discussing much the same issues that came up in relation to Bertolucci and Paris in 1968 (the way Jonathon mentions it)”

It sounds like Maria has more stimulating dinner companions than Jill and I have been having lately. Yes, I know, this is Berkeley, but there's a hell of a lot of closed-mindedness in the guise of intellectualism around here that can make dinners as stifling as an obligatory feed at Grandma's back in the redneck area where I grew up.

For example, our most recent dinner guests -- advanced degrees and all -- when the subject of Scorsese's "The Aviator" came up--raised their noses and proclaimed that they wouldn't set foot in any theatre showing this flick because Hughes was a fascist creep and Leo DiCaprio is just a vapid Hollywood smart-ass airhead, or something like that..

They’re probably right about Hughes, but it took some real effort to transcend the loosening effects of the dinner wine and refrain from guffawing at their learned opinion of a performance they hadn’t actually seen. The distinction eluded them, however, when I brought it up with as much politeness as I could muster.

My discretionary remark elicited a swift rejoinder: “You don’t have to actually GO SEE DiCaprio to know he’s terrible,” or something like that.

So much for advanced education. We should have discussed Bertolucci. I presume he would have been safe.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Blog Fatigue

It's been only about a month since I returned to blogging, but I'm already noticing something different about the experience. Something seems to be amiss in the blogosphere. There's an air of fatigue that I sense out there. And worse.

Jonathon Delacour, one of the truly elegant voices of this medium, has put his finger on this uneasiness in his own special way. His post today, "Before the Revolution," recaps a bit of the history of Talleyrand and the French Revolution, and employs it as a compelling run-up to a simple but profound conclusion:

"Those who did not blog in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of blogging was. "

There's a hell of a lot of context surrounding this brief assertion to which I cannot do justice. Go read Jonathon's post instead. I suspect some interesting threads will get generated out of this--at least I hope they will. Robust discussions help keep some of the fatigue at bay.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hello Madness

What's not to like about March? There's my birthday, Frank Paynter's puppy's birthday, St. Patrick's Day, green beer, daffodils, the end of winter, and best of all, March Madness--i.e., my very favorite sporting event, the NCAA basketball tournament.

There's a purity to college hoops that doesn't exist in the NBA. By that I mean good playmaking, team discipline, putting the team before the self, and indomitable spirit. And, unlike football, where only a handful of elite college teams are skillful enough to be worth watching, the level of play in college hoops is excellent throughout the whole tournament lineup of sixty-four teams.

There's a gathering dark side, unfortunately. More and more players, especially African-Americans, are not graduating. At some of the top basketball schools, take Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State as two examples, the graduation rates are bordering on the scandalous (around 20%).

Fortunately, the NCAA is finally deciding to address this unfortunate turn of events and will adopt policies next year which punish schools who fail to reach a 50% graduation rate. I have to say, though, that even 50% seems ridiculous to me.

When I was at Indiana, a basketball powerhouse (although not so much since the much-maligned Bob Knight got forced out), they were very serious about the players being able to cut it as students. Say what you will about Knight's tirades, he had one of the best graduation rates in the country, not to mention a Hall of Fame record.

I spent one summer working as a remedial writing tutor to the freshman players who were having trouble. They would not allow these guys, no matter how talented, to put on the uniform the next year if they couldn't get a passing grade in Freshman English. And it also didn't matter how rabidly insistent the fan base was about having top teams, the school would not let you on the court if you couldn't meet the same standard required of every other student.

Some of these guys were truly woeful when it came to tackling basic writing skills. Products of forlorn ghettos in rust-belt industrial towns, there was many a day when one of my charges would storm out in frustration, yelling, "Fuck it! I can't take this shit."

Next day, coach would have them sheepishly returning for the next session. Coach would say, "You can fuck the mother-tongue, or you can play for one of the top programs in the country. It's up to you."

Indiana's teams were noted for their disciplined team play, attention to fundamentals, and understanding of the game. Of course, that was the coach's doing, but I like to think that our rigorous tutoring sessions may have contributed a smidgeon.

After all, every experience that the brain has alters the neural paths in some way. Maybe our repeated bashings of these guys' heads with a structured approach to language had some small effect.

Well, I can't root for the Hoosiers this year. They didn't even make it to the tourney, for heaven's sake. How the mighty have fallen. But I'm a Big Ten guy so my money's on Illinois. Besides, my niece is a student there. That's as good a reason as any. As a birthday gift, my son has paid my entrance fee into a big betting pool. Go Illini!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Taking Poetry Past the Parlor

Many thanks to Maria Benet for her comment to my post on marketing and authenticity. She writes, in reference to dealing with the publishers that are putting out her forthcoming book of poetry:

"I have often tried to brainstorm a few fun ideas to promote books and the press, but at the core, most members are too serious still to recognize the creativity involved in taking poetry past the parlor...."

"Taking poetry past the parlor." I love that! That Maria sure knows how to turn a phrase. It could be the title of a marketing seminar for artists and intellectuals. If I ever put something like that together I would gladly pay her a royalty for the title.

It's so gratifying to hear some recognition of the more "poetic" aspects of the marketing process from someone in the arts.

The most difficult and exasperating consulting assignment I ever had was doing some work for an art museum. The poor chap who hired me, the assistant director, shared the kind of understanding that Maria expresses, and tried to use me as an ally in changing the culture of the curatorial staff with respect to marketing.

Fat chance. Besides, I don’t do culture changing—especially with a bunch of intellectuals. Their position was very simple: put together the right exhibition. That IS the marketing, period—i.e.,”build it and they will come.” If there’s a more positional group than art museum curators, I’ve yet to meet them. I was very relieved when the board told the assistant director to can the project.

In a way, it reminds me of the time when I was soliciting some business from a young chiropractor. “Marketing?” she asked, somewhat incredulously. “I’m a professional who does excellent work. My patients say good things about me. Why would I need any marketing? I don’t even believe in it, unless you’re selling soap or something.”

I thanked her for her time and complimented her on the suit she was wearing, observing that it projected a very crisp, professional look.

"Well, I hope so,” she replied.

“But I thought you didn’t believe in marketing?” I shot back over my shoulder as I walked out the door.

I don’t usually do smart-ass stuff like that, but I simply couldn’t resist that one.

Actually, it isn’t just artists, intellectuals, and professionals. It’s often the same story with engineering or manufacturing people versus the marketers—the “build it and they will come” mentality.

Anyway, good luck to Maria in dealing with her serious-minded publishers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Threadlighter

Interesting discussion going on at Burningbird on blogrolling, popularity indexes, and related matters. Shelley does such a great job of getting good threads ignited.

A New Finger Opportunity

It takes me so damned long to catch on to cool Web stuff. Today, I finally discovered -- a nifty little site that lets you bypass the annoying requirement of having to enter tons of personal info in order to access a site's content. How many hours have I wasted doing that?

Seeing as how newspapers are among the worst practitioners of this irritation, it's amazing that I gleaned this info right off the pages of the NY Times--on a front page story, no less. They already have my registration info, so in their case, isn't going to make any difference. But there will be many others in the future for which I will now be able to give the finger when I want to view some of their content. It almost makes me giddy.

All you have to do is go to bugmenot and enter the URL of the content site you want to enter. Bugmenot returns a user name and password and, bingo, you're in!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Authentically Eric

Great post today by Eric Norlin on authenticity in marketing. A simple but profound message: good marketing is being yourself. And another component, he suggests, quite correctly, is marketers and techies putting in some good hang time together (or, I would add, in the case of agencies, account people and creatives doing the same).

Although Eric never appeared to be on a traditional marketing career path, it just seems so natural, if you've followed his writing over the years as I have, that he's ended up thriving as a marketing exec. He imparts a nice sense of that in his piece today.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Piscean Party

Birthday Greetings to all my fellow March bloggers. The ones I know about are JordonCooper, Elaine of Kallilly, Anita Bora, Denise Howell, and Richard Cody.

Wow! What a group. Fountains all of perceptive insight--as befits the Piscean clan.

If you're a March blogger that didn't get cited above please drop a comment or email so that you can be properly acknowledged.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Ghosts and Gadgets of Antedotcom

Hooray! Dervala’s Divine Dispatches are now emanating from my own territory—just across the Bay in San Francisco. (Sorry—I realize that alliterations are amateurish, but freed from clients and editors, I can’t help myself. I love playing with’em) Anyway, a big fat Welcome!

In yesterday’s post, describing her office move, she wrote a line that brought me up short:

“Yesterday we moved to new offices, just down the street on Brannan and Fourth, where the dotcom ghosts walk.”

Ghosts walking Fourth and Brannan? Egads! I'm one of 'em--that's right where I worked--and nearly expired—HOWEVER, it was the PRE-dotcom bust.

Yes, kids, there was a big bad bust before there was a dotcom--when the only gadgets I toted were a spare beer-opener in the backpack and a tape casette player (black headphones).

Of course, there was the rage of the day--the old, original Mac--which had its own special bag--heavier than shit, but with which you could demonstrate your cutting-edgeness if you were willing to lug it around. But I don't think you could call it a gadget.

Well, that dear old Mac ushered in a helluva wave of new business activity. Suddenly people were freed from the constraints of large-scale IT centers (called DP in those days)--and from the tyranny of complex keyboard commands. You could go off on your own and publish all manner of stuff. You could be little and look big.

The original Macworld Magazine was founded just down the hall from our offices. It wasn't long before they took over the entire floor below us. They were swimming in money. Hip little restaurants began to sprout up all around, and you could wear anything as long as it was black.

Then, after years of Reagan's balooning deficits (sound familiar?) and a stock market crash, it all ended, painfully and quickly (sound familiar?). Fourth and Brannan was an overnight ghost town. That's when I started free-lancing. It was tough—really, really tough, but I scraped through.

Then, half a decade later, it all sprang back to life--and then some. It made our little boom look like child’s play. After a lifetime of pounding doors and begging for business, desperate emails started flooding the in-boxes—“can you pu-leeeze help us get our start-up off the ground?” Craziness. Reality turned upside down

And, then, half a decade later, it all collapsed again. One thing about aging--it sure gives you some perspective.

Anyway, my heart is gladdened that the capable and likable likes of Dervala Hanley are now walking the streets of my old turf--injecting some fresh life into a much-buffeted area.

Whatever new up-and-down currents lie ahead, I'm sure the likes of her will ride'em out with verve and class, albeit overly laden with all the gadgetry that I'm glad I don't have to screw with (cell and laptop excepted).

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Crew Days

I always enjoy Maria Benet’s posts about her sons’ crew races. They bring back a lot of memories. My younger son, Jonathan, did crew in high school and went to all the same venues that Maria writes about.

Getting into crew was the best decision the kid ever made. He got recruited by the University of Wisconsin, a grand school with a grand crew program. His high school boat mates have formed a bond that still holds tight. In fact, Jon and one of his boat mates are trekking to Israel together in a couple of months.

Maria describes her experience of listening to Dr. Dre while schlepping the kids in the car. :

" On the drive home, the car was filled with exhausted teens whose idea of a rest before going back to the boathouse to unload the boats from the trailer and rig them was to play Dr. Dre full blast. The ride lasted an interesting 45 minutes or so, during which I asked myself why don't more Social Studies teachers, or, heaven forbid, even literature teachers, present the work of Dr. Dre or Eminem in class. I, for one, got quite an education form listening with the boys. I wish more parents could hear what their children have to say about the music that moves them and brings them into their own world, a world that seems like such a threat in its distance to so many of those parents."

I’m intrigued and would enjoy perusing some of the lyrics if Maria would identify the Dre tunes worth checking out.

When I did car pooling duties for the lads a decade ago, it was a quite different experience. Being Berkeleyans, and therefore contrarians, these kids were having none of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, REM, or other big groups of the day. To my utter astonishment, the music they chose to blast through the car’s speakers could have come right out of my own collection.

Their tastes ran to Creedence Clearwater, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. You could have blown me over with a feather. Instead of the car pooling being an annoying obligation, it was thoroughly enjoyable bonding experience.

Maria, you should be so lucky.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Favorite Recalled

Not only has my preceding post, relating as it does to the hoi polloi, mass medium of television, attracted no comments, it sank my page-views right into the toilet. It’s not surprising. A great many of my readers have mentioned on occasion that they do not watch television.

Rather than put them down as snobs, I chalk it up to their high level of intellectualism—and I allow myself to feel complimented by the fact that a number of people of their intellect are willing to stop by this humble page from time to time.

I wrote the post for BlogCritics, and should probably have just left it at that. But what the hell? I must have a few TV-watching readers out there somewhere.

Speaking of BlogCritics, I’m thrilled that editor Eric Olsen, one of the Cool Dudes of the blogosphere, has re-invited me to be a contributor. As with my blog, I had let my contributions to Eric’s Excellent Enterprise fall by the wayside.

I originally discovered Eric before he launched BlogCritics. He was then putting out TresProducers, a very hip compendium of pop music news and reviews.

And how did I discover TresProducers? Like countless other things in this medium—through the great Doctor Searls. Doc says he dislikes awards, but, at the very least, you gotta give him one for “Best Goddam Resource in the Known Blogosphere.”

Doc’s pointer to Eric inspired a post from me—and if I were asked to choose my favorite piece from my own archives, this would be it. Eric graciously wrote back and ultimately asked me to join BlogCritics when he got that going a short time later.

So, sorry non-TV watchers. You may have to put up with these TV posts from time to time.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Wolf vs. Bruckheimer

In the ongoing battle between TV production giants Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer, Wolf has raised the ante with his newest permutation of the Law and Order format, “Law and Order: Trial by Jury.”

Premiering Thursday night, Wolf’s latest effort once again displayed the kind of tight scripting that has built the franchise into such a solid force. In the production wars, Bruckheimer, creator of the CSI franchise, may win for snazzy production-value, but Wolf takes the scripting prize hands down.

I’ve heard that Wolf’s group of writers is the only writing team in Hollywood whose average age is over 40. It shows, and I mean that in the good sense. Of course, my opinion on this is immediately suspect, seeing as how I’m well north of forty.

But, discounting my bias, there’s something to be said for writing that’s forged out of some longevity of life experience. The perpetually clueless television executives, who lust after the coveted youth audience (because these are the people whose buying habits are still in a state of flux), have all concluded (Wolf excepted) that they have to employ writers who aren’t dry behind the ears in order to be relevant to the desired audience.

Suffering one flop after another, they’ve now figured out that they can dispense with the writers altogether by going for the “reality” format.

Despite Wolf's capabilites, I do have a couple of minor quibbles with the new show: what is a guy with a slow southern drawl (Fred Thompson) doing as the New York District Attorney? Everybody knows that real-life NY DA’s are rapid-tongued Italians or Jews, spitting out words at the rate of an AK-47.

And, as always with all the Law and Orders, the assistant (Amy Carlson) to the assistant DA (nicely played by the talented Bebe Neuwirth ) is eye candy. Not to disparage Carlson’s abilities (the jury is out on that—pardon the pun), but can’t they come up with a normal-looking person? The men aren’t hunks. So why do the women always have to be so fetching?

I’m stupid for asking, you would retort—and you would be right. Next you would ask, “why would I mind?” You got me there. If the woman can act--then what the hell—bring on the eye goodies.

Anyway, Bruckheimer and Wolf are certainly ruling the roost for the time being (in standard broadcast TV, that is. I’m not including HBO greats like Brad Grey and Alan Ball. It may be TV, but it’s hardly the same medium).

Alas, nothing is permanent in TVLand. Despite their current domination, the force of these two whirlwinds will at some point begin to fade and pass on, just as it did with the previous king of the producers, David Kelley. Here’s hoping that the next big producer phenom will possess the ability to combine both the slick production-value acumen of Jerry Bruckheimer and the scripting chops of Dick Wolf.

Most likely, he/she will have to be extra-talented in both areas in order to compete with the Reality-TV juggernaut that threatens to take over the airwaves.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Good Thing

There's been a lot of enthusiastic talk lately both in the press and the blogosphere about podcasting--now that Noah Glass and Ev Williams are joining forces to make it a popular medium. The enthusiasm is well-founded--especially for bloggers because podcasting promises to be an audio version of blogging, among other things.

Some observers suggest that the new medium will need the support of advertising. Yes, most sophisticated, high-budget forms of podcasting will have to have it, but beyond that, I disagree totally. And I say that as an ex ad-guy.

Fortunately, I don't have to bother with writing a defense of my position because Denise Howell has done it with her usual succinct, well-reasoned, razor-sharp voice:

"The simplicity of "producing" a quickie, relatively low-tech podcast means an exponential increase in access to and distribution of specialized information. I feel exactly the same way about weblogs. Just getting the material out there is extraordinarily powerful. I don't need to have the Becker-Posner blog, for example, bear a stronger resemblance to something that is commercially supported; in fact, it's much better as far as I'm concerned if it does not. I'd feel the same way about any podcast its authors might choose to put out. Easy, cheap tools = low barrier to entry, huge numbers can do it at some baseline level of quality. This is a Good Thing, as is finding the occasional respite from the advertising that saturates our existence. (I mean, c'mon: building elevators?)"

Right on, Denise!